A new drive-in detachment model in South Indian Lake, Man. — about 300 kilometres northwest of Thompson — is addressing some of the challenges of remote policing.
A dirt road and a short ferry connect South Indian Lake to Leaf Rapids, which until October, was the nearest RCMP detachment. That drive took at least an hour and a half for officers conducting patrols and responding to service calls.
Now, RCMP have a full-time presence in the small, northern Manitoba community within the O-Pipon-Na- Piwin Cree Nation.
Officers won't have to do that drive two, three, four times a day," says S/Sgt. Beryl Lewis with Manitoba North District RCMP. "
Instead of driving, they'll be able to sit and do their work or take statements and investigate their files."
Sgt. Eric Descoteaux, who leads the new detachment, says less time on the road will be better for officers.
The hours of driving can take its toll," he says.
The permanent police presence in South Indian Lake allows officers to build and maintain relationships with the community of about 1,000 people.
We can now attend a call in minutes," says Descoteaux. "
People will be more inclined to call for help when they know it's there."
Instead of the long drive from Leaf Rapids, officers can make it from one side of the community to the other in about 10 minutes.
While the detachment is still new, changes are already being noticed.
We're getting more calls," says Cst. Gerald McRae, who started in South Indian Lake at the end of summer.
People are aware of the RCMP presence and that makes a big difference," says Shirley Ducharme, Chief of the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation. "
We're addressing major issues like assaults, violence and impaired driving."
Being in the area permanently opens up opportunities for more positive policing programs.
We hope to arrange more community and youth outreach once we're well established," says McRae. "
So far, the kids have been fans of the temporary tattoos we hand out."
The new police office is welcomed by residents in South Indian Lake.
They want us there and they're helping us get this up and running," says Lewis. "
When we presented this idea to council, the whole roundtable clapped."
The band council collected data on the number of calls, police response time and other details to make a case supporting the new detachment.
We've been waiting a long time for this. A lot of work has had to happen," says Ducharme. "
We've worked together and shared a lot of ideas and resources."
When officer housing posed a hurdle for the new office, the community stepped in to provide accommodations until a long-term solution is finalized.
Rotate and recharge
Under the new drive-in detachment model, officers work eight days followed by six days off, letting them drive home to larger communities like Thompson. The rotation has officers in the community at all times and includes some overlap to ensure continued operations and services.
We can recharge the batteries, spend quality time with families, and even have time for a small vacation," says Descoteaux.
They'll get time off and come in fully rested and effective, which makes a better police officer," adds Lewis.
The RCMP's Leaf Rapids detachment is also transitioning to the drive-in detachment model. Previously, officers lived in the 550-person town while working there.
The drive-in model can benefit all of Manitoba North District RCMP. If there's a critical incident in the region, officers living in Thompson during their time off can help out on overtime.
The new model also aims to make remote policing more attractive to RCMP officers.
Working in these communities, you're isolated, and it can affect your mental health," says Descoteaux. "
The drive-in model will provide more work-life balance."